About Nicaraguan beer and rum – brought to you by Kiva clients

3 September 2012 at 08:00 4 comments

By Luan Nio | KF18 | Nicaragua

One of the first things I always do when I arrive in a new country is trying out the local beer. Toña is a nice fresh beer and light to drink, but I like to spice it up as a Michelada, the Bloody Mary version of beer.

Toña – the local beer in Nicaragua

The local rum is truly delicious. The most famous brand is Flor de Caña and is best drunk pure with ice. It is also very common to order a bottle, a bucket of ice, lemon, salt and a gaseosa of choice and build your own cocktails at your table.

Build-your-own Flor de Caña cocktails at your table with a bucket of ice, lemon and salt. All of this for less than $10.

At the end of this blog post I will give you the recipes for Toña Michelada and Macua, my favorite Nica drinks. But let me first take you to the place where these drinks are produced, namely the oven of Nicaragua: the sugarcane fields in the west around the village of Chichigalpa.

Chichigalpa is a small town of 50.000 inhabitants. Temperatures can reach 42ºC / 107ºF and it is the hottest place in Nicaragua. This climate and the vicinity of many volcanos make this region extremely fertile and suitable for sugercane agriculture. Some of the most successful Nicaraguan enterprises now flourish internationally by producing sugar, rum and beer in this region. Every single family is in some way dependent on the sugarcane fields and the enterprises that own the land and the production facilities.

The sugarcane fields around the town of Chichigalpa, western Nicaragua.

Now, here come the shocking facts behind this seemingly pretty picture.

About 50% of men under 45 years of age in Chichigalpa show symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). This is 13 times more than the national average. Some patients are not even 20 years old. Chronic Kidney Disease manifests itself by a deteriorated kidney function, loss of appetite and a general feeling of being unwell. There is no treatment for the disease other than to slow down the progression towards the most advanced stage 5, when dialysis and ultimately kidney transplantation are required.

In a developing country as Nicaragua, this unfortunately doesn’t always belong to the available options. Within this small region of Chichigalpa, more than one thousand persons per year die from Chronic Kidney Disease.

All of them have worked in the sugarcane fields.

I meet with Don Jose Donald who is the president of ASOCHIVIDA, an organization for sick ex-sugarcane workers and their families, as well as the women and children of the deceased. Donald himself suffers from an advanced stage of Chronic Kidney Disease. He shows me the scars of the dialysis treatment which he undergoes three times a week in the larger city of Chinandega.

Don Jose Donald, president of Asochivida in front of the office in Chichigalpa

Nineteen years of working in the fields has broken down his body. He now relies on the little money that he receives from insurance and runs ASOCHIVIDA in the hope of bettering the lives in his community.

Over the past years, there have been numerous investigations about the exact causes of Chronic Kidney Disease in relation to sugercane workers. Donald explains to me that the workers are out in the field for as long as 9 ½ hours a day, under the burning sun with little to no water, 7 days a week. The men use machetes to cut the cane manually and are paid not by the hour, but by the amount they harvest.

But also, they are exposed to the agricultural chemicals that have contaminated the soil and the groundwater after decades of excessive use. Forget any protective clothes – there are no such regulations nor reinforcements in developing country Nicaragua and it is simply way too hot to wear those.

To make matters even worse, the sugarcane season only runs for 6 months from November until May. There is a whopping 80% unemployment rate outside of the season, leading to lack of income, excessive drinking and smoking, and pregnancy of girls as young as 14 years of age.

The Flor de Caña rum factory just outside Chichigalpa.

Why do these men still want to work in the sugarcane fields even if they know they will get sick?

Because it is the only option they have. There are even reports of identity falsification – fathers that take their son’s name to be able to continue working and earning an income.

Even loan officer Fernando, university-educated, smart, strong and in his early twenties, has worked in the fields for one season to pay for his university diploma. He says: Of course I feared for my health. But it was the only option I had to be able to finish my studies.

In Nicaragua, students need to pay about $1000 at the end of their studies before they receive their diploma, on top of the yearly tuition fees.

He was lucky not to get sick. Now that he got his diploma, he is dedicated to better the lives of the sugarcane workers in his own town, many of whom are family and friends, and he manages the full portfolio of ASOCHIVIDA clients for CEPRODEL.

Now, how does this all link back to Kiva and what can you do?

CEPRODEL is one of Kiva’s field partners in Nicaragua and has been providing microloans to ASOCHIVIDA members since September 2010. Up until now 730 microloans to ASOCHIVIDA members, with an average amount of $200, have been used to start or expand a business like a small pulperia, tortilleria or work their own piece of land. These loans were a lifeline for many of the families in Chichigalpa, allowing them to develop other sources of income and give a boost to local small businesses.

However, it is a risky target group for CEPRODEL because these clients are not trained or used to do other work than in the sugarcane fields, they are not physically fit and may die. Six clients have already passed away since the start of the collaboration. Nevertheless, CEPRODEL continues to offer these loans against a 1% monthly interest rate, 12% annually. That is an extremely low interest rate in the Nicaraguan microfinance industry.

It is fully thanks to Kiva that CEPRODEL can offer these loans to some of the most left-out and vulnerable communities in the country.

The loans for ex-sugercane workers and their families will come online soon. Watch this space and become a member of the Fans of CEPRODEL Lenders Team to be the first to know! In the meantime, lend to any of CEPRODEL’s clients here.


UPDATE Sept 28, 2012: The loans to ex-sugarcane workers and their families are now online here.

Or choose Country “Nicaragua” and “Vulnerable Groups” on the bottom left on the Lend page.


Now, the recipes for some of the best Nicaraguan drinks:

Toña Michelada – the Bloody Mary version of beer

Toña Michelada

1 bottle of Toña beer
1 lime juiced
2-3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
1-3 dashes of Tabasco sauce

Put a squeeze of lime on the rim of a glass and stick salt on. Then add ice, the juiced lime, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco (as little or as much as you like!) with a hint of pepper and extra salt and stir. Pour in your Toña beer and enjoy!

Macua with Ron Flor de Caña


2 parts white Flor de Cana rum
2 parts guava juice
1 part lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar

Shake all ingredients together with ice. Pour into a glass over more ice. Salud!

Luan Nio is a Kiva Fellow in Nicaragua where she works with CEPRODEL and 4 other Kiva field partners. She now thinks twice every time she enjoys her Nicaraguan beer or rum. Consider making a loan to one of CEPRODEL’s clients or join their lending team to be the first to know about newly published loans to ASOCHIVIDA members. You can follow Luan on Twitter @luan_nio

Entry filed under: blogsherpa, CEPRODEL, KF18 (Kiva Fellows 18th Class), KF18 (Kiva Fellows 18th Class), Nicaragua, Uncategorized, Vulnerable Group Focus. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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  • 1. luannio  |  2 October 2012 at 08:32

    The loans to ex-sugarcane workers and their families are ONLINE now!! Go here:

  • 2. Premal Shah  |  10 September 2012 at 14:43

    Serious thanks to you, Don Jose Donald and others in the movement to highlight and improve conditions for the sugar cane workers behind the products we consume. It’s wonderful to know that Kiva lenders support — indirectly today — CEPRODEL’s program to give sugar cane workers access to much more affordable loan options. Look forward to seeing this loans on the website and building more support for the issues that ASOCHOVIDA aims to tackle. Thanks for a great post Luan.

  • 3. jonhiebert  |  4 September 2012 at 04:55

    What an amazing post! It’s these kind of connections that Kiva must continue to foster. I’m now working on a partnership with Refugee Law Project to connect Kiva with urban refugees in Kampala.
    Let me know how the partnership works with ASOCHOVIDA. How do they specifically connect between them and the MFI?

    • 4. luannio  |  2 October 2012 at 08:35

      Hey Jon, thanks for your comment and the amazing work you do in Uganda!! Way to go!
      ASOCHIVIDA informs their members about the possibility of the microloan, then members fill in a loan application form that ASOCHIVIDA then passes on to the MFI. The MFI then assesses the loan application as they normally do and connects with the potential new client. All further contact regarding the loan is done directly between the MFI and the client.
      Hope this helps!

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